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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (CNN) -- In Rio, Carnaval is not just hot, hot, hot because of the samba parades and skimpily clad revelers. It's summer in this sensuous city, bringing the party to a fever pitch.
Samba defines Rio's Carnaval. Schools start street rehearsals early -- you can watch in the historical district of Lapa or in the suburbs on the weekends -- but official Carnaval doesn't begin until the Saturday just before Mardi Gras (this year, February 13).
The party kicks off with a torrent of gala balls -- if Latin rhythms don't get your hips swinging, take up the techno beat at a rave or hobnob at a black-tie affair. For the two nights before Mardi Gras (when the most glamorous gala is broadcast nationwide), the Sambodrome is the center of attention: groups strut their stuff from early evening until almost dawn.
Tickets to the Sambodrome don't come cheap -- fairly good bleacher seats run about $200 a pop. To see the best of the best, put your money on the Saturday after Mardi Gras, when the top-ranked schools give a grand finale.
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